LOCKPORT — In a perfect scholastic girls hockey world, you gather your 20-plus experienced players together at your local rink, surround them with a few dedicated coaches and simply put their talents to the test against neighboring schools and districts.
In the real world of Western New York Federation Hockey, however, things don't always work that way, especially when participation numbers are already low and you're just trying to start a new program.
Savanna Shaft, 11, and Calleigh Nowak, 13, are two among the first handful of Lockportians to sign up for a new girls varsity team that will hopefully begin play in the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation (WNYGVIHF) next winter season.
But it's a short list of players who are eligible for now and one which will probably require Lockport to combine its roster with another district or districts in its inaugural season and probably beyond. Lockport's boys varsity Federation team has combined with Niagara Falls (calling themselves “LNF”) in each of the past two seasons.
Kelly Nowak said as of right now, her daughter, Calleigh, and Savanna are the only two Lockport players who will be eligible to compete in the WNYGVIHF (for players in 7th through 12 grades) next season, knowing the chances of filling out a roster of Lockport-only players in less than a year is highly unlikely. The year after that, there would only be four known eligible players as of right now.
But Nowak and Savanna's father, Jeff Shaft, said they remain optimistic, and are extremely proud of their children's pioneering effort, where ever it leads them.
“We definitely will have to join another team. We obviously do not have enough girls,” Kelly Nowak said. “As far as the possible teams, I don't know. We're still just trying to get enough girls to go ahead and then we'll join a team. My daughter will be in ninth grade next season. She's a goalie, so we have her and we have Savanna, who will be in seventh grade next year, so we're in the process of trying to find some girls between the grades of 7 through 12 in the city school district.”
Jeff Shaft said his daughter saw a flyer at school four years ago advertising the Cornerstone's “Learn to Skate Program” and has been hooked ever since. Ice time is limited without a team, but you'll find this pair at every Learn to Skate Program practicing their hockey teachniques.
“Calleigh is a year older than Savanna and Savanna and Calleigh's sister, Kerrigan, are best friends, so we know each other through families and they both play hockey,” Shaft said.
“Right now, we're just wondering where we're gonna end up and what teams we're gonna merge with. We only have a couple of girls, so we just have to sit and wait it out.”
Of the pair, Calleigh, partly because she's a little older, has more ice hockey experience, seven years as a matter of fact. This season, she's a goaltender on the Lockport boys modified hockey team. Savanna has four years experience.
“I'd like to see a lot of kids come out to try out for the Lockport varsity team and hope that we can have a team to play next year and have enough kids that can do it,” said Savanna, who's a big fan of Ryan O'Reilly of the NHL's St. Louis Blues.
Calleigh said among the ice programs she's already participated in are the Lockport Lock Monsters and Clarence Hockey.
“My brother played. I wanted to play, just like him,” Calleigh said. “He teaches me a lot and that's good.”
There are currently eight teams in the 10-year-old WNYGVIHF, many of which are “combined” schools. The 2019-20 league consists of the following teams:
• Clarence/Amherst/Sweet Home
• Frontier/Lakeshore/Orchard Park
• Kenmore/Grand Island
• Monsignor Martin
• Niagara County
• West Seneca/Hamburg/Eden
LHS athletics director Todd Sukdolak said he's currently in discussions with more than one of those teams, trying to secure Lockport players a spot on a roster next year.
“I can't commit to anything, because I don't have approval yet by the Board of Education,” Sukdolak said. “If I get interest, I will will try to combine with someone. It could be Grand Island. It could also be Clarence. I gotta find a home for these girls. I have feelers out, but there's nothing guaranteed yet.”
Clinton defeated Williamsville 1-0 to win the NYSPHSAA girls ice hockey championship. Williamsville won its second straight VI championship earlier this month, defeating Kenmore/Grand Island, 3-2 in overtime at Lockport's Cornerstone CFCU Arena.
For more information on how you can become part of a Lockport girls ice hockey team, contact Kelly Nowak at 523-9044 or Kelly5676@aol.com.
Follow veteran Lockport sports reporter and editor John D'Onofrio on Twitter at @JohnD'Onofrio7.